The Town Square
When I am depressed, I walk. I stroll slowly around the town square in my mind, peering into the empty storefronts of my past, hoping I might find some memories I left behind. Memories not for brooding, and certainly not for reliving, but as clues to understanding why, exactly, I am depressed.
I look into the oldest shop, Childhood, first. I see some of my old favorite toys lying abandoned in the thick dust, especially The Monk: the small stuffed monkey I slept with for years and years, its body furless from endless petting and full of stitches from Mom’s repairs. I am petting my old friend right now as I write this because, in my mind, I can. And all these years later, he still gives me comfort.
I have come for memory clues, and they are here. My father, a liar and a cheat and a drunk, telling his drunken cheating lies. The verbal fighting and the physical abuse late into the night. My Mom’s anger and hurt. Her sad attempts at making us appear to be a normal family, when in fact we were neither normal nor a family. I feel these memories, too. The nearly constant fear while waiting, waiting, waiting for the next explosion that always came and tore me into emotional pieces.
Lying near The Monk I see an old baby rattle, and I wonder: Was I afraid even then?
I peer through the window of School and I can smell chalkboard dust, fresh pencil shavings, and the starch in Sister’s habit. It is truly amazing, how I can actually smell smells in my mind, even though the classroom is long gone. Sister is faceless, but her words are as sharp as if she'd just spoken them: HELL and eternal damnation for my sins. How God writes them in my book of life and how, on Judgment Day, I will have to give an accounting of myself. I feel these memories, too. The terrible dread, the trembling in my stomach, and a fear even worse than the fear of home.
I have come for clues and I have gotten them. I back away from the grimy storefronts because I have no more use for them. They are dangerous places. Should I tarry too long I will find myself not living in the past, but dying in the past.
There is an idyll in the town square of my mind, a quiet place with big beautiful trees and a gazebo where I can think and put the puzzle pieces together. Sometimes the puzzles are easy, the cause and effect self-evident. Once I know the cause, I am able to work on change.
But this one, this depression puzzle, is much more difficult. Depression, I have come to know, is fear. Deeply ingrained fear. Toxic fear. Fear of other people, fear to trust what they say and do, fear to trust what I say and do. It is always there, the fear, hiding just below the surface waiting to pounce on me. To attack me with sudden panic, an experience so intense and terrifying that I cannot put it into words. In one burst of panic, always sudden and without warning, my mind questions every thing I have ever done or said, every decision I have ever made, and tells me they were all wrong. My mind, in a few milliseconds, makes me question the very existence and value of me. Add shame to the fear.
My mind. My mind is me, it is my soul. It is my heart and my spirit. It is who I am. It is the only part of me that will live after I die (if in fact there is such a thing). The rest of me is all machinery, a body full of support systems for my soul.
So I am left to sit here on my park bench and ponder the question, is it nature or nurture? Was I born depressed, or has a life of fear caused it? Maybe it isn’t an “or” question at all, but an “and” question—a mixture of both. All I can say for sure is that I did not choose it willingly. I do not revel in it. I cannot “just get over it”, or “snap out of it”, or worst of all, “pick myself up by my bootstraps and get on with it”.
The best I can do is what I have been doing for thirty-five years: I weather the storms on my park bench, telling myself that I am a good person, a helpful person, a loving person, and then I move on with my life by strolling around the town square, ignoring the rotting, dirt-encrusted storefronts . . .
[This post is dedicated to all who suffer from major depression and/or panic disorder, whether diagnosed or not. My one hope is that it will help someone, anyone, even just one.]